It’s like David and Goliath in reverse, where the strong godly man is undone by a simple slave girl. He’s like the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz, roaring around about how he’ll kill ‘em all and he’ll never desert, but then running for cover when a little girl threatens him.
The whole story is a study in contrasts: strength and weakness, light and dark (the fire and the night), good and evil afoot, righteousness and sin, daring and fear, truth and lies, and in the end, failure instead of faith.
When Jesus is first arrested, Peter follows him at a distance. We can see the conflict in Peter as if he were wearing it as Joseph’s brightly colored coat. He’s brave enough and curious enough to follow, but scared enough and confused enough to keep his distance. He is drawn, but daunted.
He has the guts to enter the courtyard, and he sits down at the fire, trying so hard to nonchalantly blend in. But there will be no blending in today. The author wants us to know that at the cross the lines are drawn and clear, and there’s no straddling fences here.
It’s interesting to note that Peter’s life with Jesus up to this point is an exercise in denial. Almost every time Jesus spoke of his coming death, Peter insisted it would never happen, not on his watch. Peter crowed about how strong he would be and how he would never deny or desert. He was on fire for Jesus, and no dark of night would intimidate him. Now here, at the fire, in the dark of night, at the crow of the cock, he fails not once but three times, to prove it was no fluke. His fears become fact and his faith falls flat.
Just then in a moment of powerful drama and intense irony, “the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.” What did each of their eyes say?
“I warned you, but know that I still love you.”
“I failed you bitterly, but know that I still love you.”
But I understate it. It’s Romans 5.8: “God’s love abounds towards us, and even while we were sinners, Christ died for us.” It was the look spanning all history and all eternity: the shame of humanity, the claim of God on our lives, our failure, his promise and provision, the brokenness of sin, and the love of God to save us from it.